How to Cope With Rape
Thirty-three years ago Mary was raped at knife point. Today, Mary’s heart pounds and her palms sweat when she tries to describe it. “It’s the most degrading thing a woman can go through,” she says, almost in tears. “It’s an ugly, horrible thing.”
RAPE can be one of the most devastating emotional events in a person’s life, and the effects can last for a lifetime. In one study, almost one third of rape survivors interviewed had considered suicide, and the vast majority said that the experience had permanently changed them.
The effects can be particularly traumatizing if the woman knew her attacker. An acquaintance rape victim is less likely to receive support from others because either she tells no one what happened or she tells and no one believes it was rape. Since she was hurt by someone she trusted, she is also more likely to blame herself and to doubt her ability to judge others.
Many rape survivors initially react with shock and denial. One woman was raped shortly before an important college exam. She put the rape aside in her mind until after she took the test. Another rape survivor said: “I could not allow myself to remember any of it because my trusted acquaintance became my attacker right in front of my eyes. I didn’t know you could be raped by someone you knew. It may sound silly, but that belief left me with no hope. I felt so alone.”
Some women continue to deny what happened by telling no one about their rape. They repress the attack for years, which delays the healing process and causes other emotional problems that the survivor may not realize are stemming from the rape.
Recovery doesn’t usually begin until you talk to others. A trusted friend can help you to see that what happened to you was indeed rape and was not your fault. An old proverb states: “A true companion is loving all the time, and is a brother that is born for when there is distress.” (Proverbs 17:17) Also, spiritual shepherds can “prove to be like a hiding place from the wind and a place of concealment from the rainstorm.” (Isaiah 32:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:14) For some victims, contacting a rape-crisis center or a professional counselor may be needed to help them sort out their feelings.
Survivors are often afraid to talk about their rape because of feelings of guilt, especially if they were sexually aroused during the attack. They may feel soiled and useless and blame themselves for the rape—even though no one but the rapist deserves blame.
“Having a good friend to talk to made a difference,” said Mary, who confided in a fellow Christian. “I could talk to her and not feel dirty and not feel a stigma about having been raped.”
Give Her Support
On the other hand, it would be improper and unloving for friends of the victim to second-guess her or take it upon themselves to decide if she “was really raped.” Never suggest that she enjoyed it or was immoral. The most important thing a friend can do when asked for help is to believe her. Reassure her. Be there to listen when she wants to talk, but don’t press her for details.
If the rape happened recently, friends can help the victim get medical help and can offer a safe place to stay. Encourage her to report the rape, but let her make the decisions. She has just come from a situation where she was stripped of all control. Allow her to take some of that control back by letting her choose what to do next.
Families of rape victims must resist the urge to react emotionally to the situation. They may want to look for someone to blame for the rape or seek revenge on the rapist, neither of which helps the victim. (Romans 12:19) Blaming anyone but the rapist for what happened is futile, and seeking revenge is dangerous. It will cause the survivor to worry about the safety of her loved ones instead of focusing on her recovery.
Families should also be aware that many survivors view sexual relations differently after a rape. In their minds, sex has become a weapon, and they may have difficulty with sexual relations for a time, even with someone they love and trust. For that reason, a husband should not push his wife to resume sexual activity until she is ready. (1 Peter 3:7) Families can help by building a young woman’s self-esteem and showing her that she is still loved and respected regardless of what happened to her. Continued support will be needed as the survivor goes through what are sometimes lengthy steps to emotional recovery.
Coping With Fear and Depression
Women who have been raped say that their most overwhelming reaction is fear. Most rape victims didn’t expect to survive the attack. Later they may fear being raped again or may even fear seeing the rapist accidentally.
The fear felt during the rape can be reawakened by similar sounds, smells, and places. If a woman was raped in an alley, she may be afraid to go into an alley. If she was raped at home, she may never feel safe there again and may be forced to move. Even smelling a cologne similar to what the rapist wore can trigger unpleasant memories.
While few rapes result in pregnancy, many victims are terrified of the possibility. Many also are justifiably worried about whether they’ve contracted a sexually transmitted disease. About half experience feelings of depression, hopelessness, and worthlessness, which can last from several weeks to several months. They also may struggle with anxiety, phobias, and panic attacks.
Although women may not be able to prevent a rape, in time they can take control of their thoughts, feelings, and reactions to the attack. They can learn to replace negative thoughts with positive views of themselves.
“Instead of telling yourself how weak, useless, or helpless you are, learn to tell yourself how well you are doing and how far you have come since the turmoil immediately following the assault,” said Linda Ledray in Recovering From Rape. “Each day that you feel less overwhelmed by negative thoughts and feelings, tell yourself, ‘I’m learning to take back control.’”
Fear also can be dealt with by learning to identify exactly what is causing it. When the victim identifies the trigger, she can ask herself, How realistic is that fear? For example, if she sees someone who looks like the rapist, she can remind herself that he is not the rapist and he is not going to hurt her.
Another method recommended for dealing with fear is systematic desensitization. The woman makes a list of activities or situations she is afraid of, ranking them from the least frightening to the most. She then imagines herself in the least stressful situation until it no longer seems frightening. She moves down the list until she is comfortable when thinking about all the situations.
With the help of a friend, she can then progress to carrying out the activities in real life, such as going out of the house at night or being alone. She can eventually control her fear so that it no longer affects her daily routine. However, fear of some activities—such as going down a dark alley at night—is normal, and there would be no point in trying to overcome uneasiness in those situations.
Rape survivors also experience feelings of anger, which may at first be directed toward all men but, as time goes by, usually become focused on the rapist. Angry people often strike out blindly. Others may react by burying their feelings. However, anger can be constructively channeled, and the way a person deals with her anger can help her recovery. The Scriptures say: “Be wrathful [angry], and yet do not sin.”—Ephesians 4:26.
First, survivors do not need to be afraid to express anger. They can talk about it to others. Becoming involved in the legal process or keeping a record can be an outlet. They can also work off their anger with physical activities, such as tennis, racquetball, handball, walking, jogging, bike riding, or swimming, which have the added benefit of helping to combat depression.
You can take back control of your life.
What Will Stop Rape?
Stopping rape is more than a matter of women hiding from rapists or fighting them off. “It is men who rape and men who collectively have the power to end rape,” said author Timothy Beneke in his book Men on Rape.
Rape will not end until men stop treating women as mere objects and learn that successful relationships do not depend on violent domination. On an individual level, mature men can speak up and influence other men. Both men and women can refuse to go along with sexist jokes, to watch movies featuring sexual aggression, or to support advertisers who exploit sex to sell products. The Bible counsels: “Let fornication and uncleanness of every sort or greediness not even be mentioned among you, just as it befits holy people; neither shameful conduct nor foolish talking nor obscene jesting, things which are not becoming, but rather the giving of thanks.”—Ephesians 5:3, 4.
Parents can teach respect for women by example. They can teach their sons to view women as Jehovah God does. God is not partial. (Acts 10:34) Parents can teach their sons to be friends with women and feel at ease around them, as Jesus did. They can teach their sons that sexual intercourse is a tender act of love reserved for one’s marriage mate only. Parents can clearly indicate that violence will not be tolerated, nor dominance of others be valued. (Psalm 11:5) They can encourage their children to discuss sexual matters openly with them and to stand up to sexual pressure.
A Problem Soon to End
However, rape won’t end without revolutionary changes in world society. “Rape is not only an individual problem [but] is also a family problem, a social problem, and a national problem,” said researcher Linda Ledray.
The Bible promises an earth-wide society free of violence, where man will no longer ‘dominate man to his injury.’ (Ecclesiastes 8:9; Isaiah 60:18) The time will soon come when Jehovah God will not tolerate any further abuse of power, including rape.—Psalm 37:9, 20.
In that new world society, all persons will be educated to be peaceable and will love one another regardless of gender, race, or nationality. (Isaiah 54:13) And at that time, meek persons will live without fear of friends or strangers and will “find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.”—Psalm 37:11.
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If You Are Raped
□ Seek medical attention.
□ If you wish, ask that a rape-victim counselor accompany you through medical and legal procedures if one is available.
□ Call the police as soon as you are able to. Counselors recommend reporting for your safety and for the safety of other women. Reporting is not the same as prosecuting, but if you choose to prosecute later, your case will be weakened by a delayed report.
□ Preserve evidence. Do not bathe, change clothing, wash or comb hair, or destroy fingerprints or footprints.
□ Medical personnel will collect evidence and will test for sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. If they offer pregnancy prevention drugs, otherwise known as a morning-after pill, Christians should be aware that such drugs can cause the body to abort a fertilized egg.
□ Do what you have to in order to feel safe—change locks, stay with a friend, block your door—whether it seems that you’re overreacting or not.
□ Above all, look to the Scriptures for comfort, praying to Jehovah, even calling aloud his name, during and after the assault. Lean on the elders and other close associates in the congregation for support. Attend meetings if at all possible, and seek companionship with fellow Christians in the ministry.